America Keeps Getting China All Wrong

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President Trump and President Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, 2019. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

For decades, China has been an enigmatic foe and friend to the United States. From trade to immigration, the two international giants have been linked in inextricable ways in recent years. With Donald Trump’s current trade war with China and the Hong Kong protests hitting headlines, Americans are once again thinking about the Chinese in a more nuanced way. And yet, there is still a lot of misinformation about the Asian nation at all levels of American society, including within the Trump administration.

In the most recent installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Clayton Dube, the director of the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute, speaks with Truthdig Editor in Chief about some of the reasons the U.S. keeps getting China wrong and what implications this has had for both countries.

"We got a lot wrong. Especially in terms of kind of mass media,” Dube tells Scheer.“China is a large, complex, diverse country. And our understanding of it necessarily needs to be much more nuanced.”

Dube argues that one largely overlooked fact is that Chinese growth has been both terrible and terrific for American industry, as U.S. businesses not only began to produce products for American customers, but also for the hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers in the Asian market. Yet these business boons have come at a great cost to the citizens of both nations. While it has led to a rise in living standards in China and more affordable goods in the U.S., the environmental and human rights costs have been astounding.

“The air in Los Angeles,” the academic explains by way of an example, “is influenced by the air coming out of northern China. But of course, that bad air in China is produced by factories often producing for the American market. And so we have not only outsourced production, we've outsourced pollution.”

As for the U.S. trade war with China and the recent protests in Hong Kong, a special administrative region belonging to China, Scheer notes that the reporting by U.S. media has once more lacked nuance, leading to further confusion about what is going on in China.

“I find a lot of mixed feelings about what’s happening in Hong Kong,” Scheer says to Dube, “which some of [my USC students from China] see as a privileged place with its own history. And also about the tariff war with the United States, which they tend to think is quite punitive and one-sided. [With regards to the protests] I just wonder---recalling how Hong Kong was this outpost of English imperialism, and its special relation to China---Are we not actually sticking our finger in their eye now, in a way?”

“What we have to first of all understand is: Beijing makes claims that the problems in Hong Kong have external origins and that the United States and United Kingdom are stirring that up as a way of weakening China, as a wedge into holding China back,” responds Dube. “And there's no evidence of that. What's driving the protests in Hong Kong are Hong Kong-specific issues, and Hong Kong-specific history.”

Listen to the full discussion between Dube and Scheer as they delve into the complicated, at times bloody history between China and the U.S. and try to come to an understanding about where this relationship is heading.




Joshua Scheer